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Last updated: Sep 23, 2013
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What's New: Is the Bible "inspired"?
"Insights" from the New Testament Greek
By Bob Jones, Northside Bible Church, Jacksonville Florida
"Baptism" and the Greek Preposition "eis"
The Greek preposition "eis" has at least 16 different meanings, each depending on the Scripture context, listed in Thayer's Greek Lexicon. "Eis" generally denotes the "motion" "into". But, I believe the Greek preposition "eis", as used in all the New Testament contexts of water baptism, specifically means "because of" for the following reasons:
1. To me, Kenneth Wuest, in his book "Treasures" has the best exegesis of Acts 2:38, and Wuest notes that:
a. The work of Dana & Mantey in the Greek papyri find the use of "eis" as "because of", and demonstrate this usage in the N.T. examples also of Matt 12:41, where the men of Ninevah repented at (eis = because of) the preaching of Jonah, and Rom 4:20, where Abraham did not staggar at (eis = because of) the promise of God.
b. That "because of" is the correct translation of "eis" in the context of baptism and Acts 2:38 is demonstrated by Matt 3:11, where John said "I indeed baptize you with water unto (eis = because of) repentance". John himself, in Matt 3:7&8 told the unbelieving Pharisees and Sadducees that came to see his baptism, that they needed to produce works that demonstrated repentance. He did not tell them that his baptism would produce repentance. Repentance first, then baptism.
c. Add to this the testimony of the Jewish historian Josephus, who lived during the time of Christ and wrote about what he saw. Josephus wrote in his book "Antiquities of the Jews", in Book XVIII, chapter V, paragraph 2, that John only baptized men AFTER they had repented: John "commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away, [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body: supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness".
2. What did the King James Version translators intend "for the remission of sins" to mean, when they translated Acts 2:38? The W.W. Skeat Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, first published in 1879, only lists ONE definition of the English word "for", and that is "in place of". Skeat, being a dictionary of the English language of the middle 1800's, is very close to the language of William Shakespeare and the King James translators. So, even the King James translators apparently intended to translate the Greek word "eis" with the meaning "in the place of", meaning that baptism is a visible picture of the forgiveness of sins that God had already granted. The problem sometimes is that we are trying to understand language written many years ago using our MODERN understanding of the English language! Our modern dictionaries now list as many as 21 different meanings for the English word "for"!
3. I believe that an in-depth study of the New Testament will prove that when a cardinal doctrine (a very IMPORTANT teaching) is being taught, unambiguous and precise VERBs are used in the Greek text, so there can be no misunderstanding! The New Testament Greek has the verbs "Lambano, to receive", "Ginomai, to become", "Tugchano, to obtain", and many other verbs for the New Testament writers to have used if God had intended for them to teach that baptism "results in remission of sins".
I receive many e-mails concerning "eis" and "baptism", and most note the fact that the Thayer's Greek Lexicon does not list the specific meaning "because of" for "eis". Just because we do not find something in a Greek Lexicon cannot be considered "proof" that a meaning does not exist. As noted above, the Thayer's Lexicon missed the meaning "because of" in Matt 3:11, 12:41, and Rom 4:20, as well as Acts 2:38.
The PREPOSITIONs, such as "eis" are often used in CASUAL MENTION of teachings that the reader is ALREADY EXPECTED TO KNOW, and a PREPOSITION alone cannot be used to ESTABLISH a cardinal doctrine.